Apple Music has issues

I will spare the wall of text that would outline why I am switching to Apple Music but it is partially because Rdio is shutting down and partially because my daughter finds it convenient. So, while I have been paying for a family plan for the last couple of months, I only started to truly use it myself, this week.

I uncovered two major software bugs and one terrible policy issue.

Software Bug #1 - Clicking on 'Albums' did not work. At all.

iTunes 12.3.1.23 64bit for Windows 10

I can't speak to other versions of the software, but the Windows 10 version is where I found all of the trouble. On Tuesday, November 17th, 2015, I discovered this "issue". While trying to rebuild my huge Rdio collection in Apple Music, I realized that if I clicked on the 'Albums' tab for ANY artist, I got an endless timeout. Please note, 'Top Albums' worked fine.

I contacted Apple Music Support via Twitter and began a long conversation using Direct Messages. They took my info and told me they were kicking it up to engineering and that it could take days to see any results.

Let's not even get into the fact that text doesn't render correctly if you have installed a different version of the Helvetica Neue font.

This is what I saw when I clicked 'Albums' on ANY artist

To my surprise, yesterday, November 18th, 2015, the issue was fixed. I got phone calls and more Twitter messages letting me know. 

Software Bug #2 - After adding an album to 'My Music', a subsequent search will not recognize that you have already added that album.

iTunes 12.3.1.23 64bit for Windows 10

Once the first issue was fixed, this new issue popped up. If I clicked on an album after I added it to My Music, the "Remove from My Music" dialog stopped showing up. (See video)

As of this posting, Software Bug #2 has not been fixed. 

Apple confirmed that they were able to recreate these issues on their end.

Policy Issue

It did not sit well with me that I have been essentially doing QA for a multi billion dollar company, for free, as a customer. As a matter of fact, I am paying to help them fix this product. I felt like it was only fair to ask for a credit of 1 month for my Apple Music subscription. This happens all the time with other companies. If Comcast or Verizon have legitimate outages (and boy, do they), they are always willing to offer a courtesy credit for our troubles. It is a very standard practice. 

I spent over 60 minutes on phone calls with at least 3 customer service representatives who all told me that Apple was not equipped to give out full or partial credit whatsoever for Apple Music. They went as far as offering me song and movie credits (which I declined), but they said, if I wanted credit for the service, my subscription would be instantly cancelled. 

It was at that moment I decided to write this article. This entire experience has baffled the hell out of me. How could a company like Apple not QA their product? 5 months in and I am finding these issues? And how could a service launch without the idea that there may be some unhappy customers down the road who would possibly want to remain an Apple Music customer, but would also like some compensation for craziness like this?

I spent my time recording, noting, and explaining major issues for a multi billion dollar company which does not seem to have the ability to credit me $14.95 back to my card for my troubles. I also have been paying for a product that clearly is NOT complete, at least on the Windows side. 

How could any of this be possible?!!?

iPhone 6 Plus

From iOS to Android and back again

Back in April I took my second voyage into the world of Android. This time, I was happy to stay for a while. The reason I made the move was because I was convinced I wanted a larger phone. In April, Apple's larger iPhones were still mere rumors. My only and best choice at the time was the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

I lived with the Note 3 comfortably for the last 5 months. All the while, in the back of my mind, I knew that if Apple created a larger similarly sized iPhone, I would head right back. While the Note 3 and Android afforded me things I could not get in iOS, I prefer the inherent elegance of iOS, notably since iOS 7. It does not hurt that I have years upon years of dollars spent in the iOS app store.

Google is working on that inherent elegance with Android L. It gets complicated after that because while HTC, Samsung, and others make hardware that is well designed and desirable, the absolute garbage software and bloatware that these companies decide to shoehorn into Android is terrible and it is holding the operating system back. Google knows this. I believe eventually something will be worked out, but there is a bit of myopia going on with the big picture.

One Handed

Contrary to opinions I have read, I can use this phone one handed. I can actually use this phone with one hand better than the Note 3 because of its narrower dimension. I also do no think I have large hands. One of the first settings I shut off? Reachability. It is not perfect, but I climb my hand up the back of the phone so I can reach most of its screen. This is an adaptive grip that I am sure many people develop who end up with larger phones.

Design

What is the iPhone 6 Plus? It is a beautifully designed larger iPhone and that is what so many people wanted. Anytime I showed my Note 3 to people, I would always get "This is the size phone I want". Previous to that, when I saw my sister's Note 2, I was the one saying such things.

The design of the new iPhone 6 Plus is very similar to that of the iPad Air, which I love. It makes absolute sense. It feels great in my hand but I have cased it for purposes of working with my iMagnet car holder. Just as I wonder how I ever was able to read text on a 3.5" screen, I also wonder why Apple ever deviated from the original iPhone shape, which makes its welcomed return here. The phone rides in my front left jeans and slacks pocket everyday. I did not get the feeling it would bend and it has not bent thus far.

From the perspective of a Note 3 user, this is not a big phone. This is a Note 3 sized iPhone, which is exactly what I wanted in April. Yet now knowing that this larger form factor is what I consider "perfect" for my hands, it is probably what I wanted all along. If the original iPhone had a 5.5" screen in 2007, my hands and eyes would have been grateful. Regardless, good things come to those who wait...on a long enough timeline.

Camera

This camera is very good. The more I use it, the more I like it and the more it surprises me. It absolutely can manage lower light shots better than any other phone camera I have used. The slow motion at 240FPS works very well. I noticed very little stutter or slowness when opening the camera from the home screen or the lock screen. 

iOS 8

iOS 8 speaks for itself as an evolutionary successor to iOS 7. Perhaps evolution came quicker for some as many apps have not been updated to look proper on the 6 Plus screen. The trickle of common sense features in iOS can feel revolutionary because we have waited so long for them such as 3rd party keyboards or the ability to reply to a text without leaving an app (This was possible on a jailbroken iPhone 3g around 2009). iOS 8 is beautiful and continues the uniform elegance we have come to expect from Apple. That elegance is one of the main aspects that sets the iPhone apart from its competition. It says something when an OS inspires a developer to redesign their app to mesh that much better with the overall aesthetic.

Battery

The battery seems fine, but until someone can manufacturer a phone battery that lasts a week under heavy usage, there will always be something to be desired here. When a company like Apple makes such a great phone, it makes people want to use it more, for everything. A blessing and a curse. In fact, I have been neglecting my iPad.

Like with previous iPhones and Android phones, in order for me to find the battery acceptable, I had to turn off several settings. In addition, I cannot use the phone at the brightness setting that works for my eyes best at all times which is around 75%. If I did, the battery would drain much faster. For now I am sticking with Auto Brightness.

Here are just some of the settings I tweaked for better battery performance:

General>Accessibility>Reduce Motion>On (Parallax Effects)

Mail, Contacts, Calendars> Fetch New Mail>Push>Off (This one kills me in this day and age, but I use an Exchange account which always seems to be extra taxing on batteries.)

Mail, Contacts, Calendars> Fetch New Mail>Everything set to Fetch/Manual

Spotlight Search>Uncheck All

Suggested Apps>Uncheck My Apps, Uncheck App Store

Privacy>Share My Location>Off

Privacy>Location Services>Make certain apps 'Never'

Privacy>Location Services>System Services>Uncheck Compass Calibration, Find My iPhone, Location-Based Alerts, Location-Based iAds, Share My Location, Diagnostics & Usage, Popular Near Me, Traffic

iCloud>Find My iPhone>Off

iCloud>Photos>Photostream>Off (I use Google Drive and IFTTT)

Verizon

On Verizon in my area, I noticed quickly that the iPhone 6 Plus does a much better job at handing off data from LTE to 3G to Wifi to 1X and back again. It was noticeably better at doing this than the Note 3 and the iPhone 5 for that matter. In areas where I would have one bar of LTE on the Note 3 or iPhone 5, the 6 Plus seemed to make an executive decision to switch and stay on 3g which had a better signal.

Software

I had specific unresolved bugs that would infuriate me on Android that I do not experience in iOS. An example of this would be the Rdio app which is my main source of music every day. In the Android version, the music would stop regularly seemingly due to network inconsistencies. In iOS, the app seems to stay up and streaming regardless of my signal. I imagine that this is a clear case of iOS apps getting more and first attention over Android versions.

VoLTE

A feature I did not realize I had access to was Voice over LTE or 'VoLTE' so I turned it on. I have not noticed increased call quality, but I am happy that I at least have access to the feature. I look forward to Verizon unlocking Wifi calling next year as well.

Wrap Up

If I could have had the power of a soothsayer I would have said long ago that this is the phone or mobile device I have wanted for a long time (of course with a super battery that does not exist yet). I have not felt that sentiment about any phone up until this point. Can something come along and change my mind? Anything is possible. I have no brand loyalty so I will jump to whatever platform produces what I consider the best. For the foreseeable future, I will be content with using the iPhone 6 Plus a ton. I will definitely get my money's worth. 

From an Apple iPhone 5 to a Samsung Galaxy Note 3: A real world account

19 months with the same phone is a new record for me since 2007. I previously got restless with the iPhone 4 and jumped to the Samsung Galaxy S3. That only lasted a couple of months. I cited not being able to see its screen in the sunlight and lack of timely OS updates as reasons to crawl back to Apple. My iPhone 5 had a pretty good run. It is and was a solid phone. I did not give it up because it became a poor performer, though the battery left a bit to be desired. I gave it up for some other reasons.

The first reason was that my step daughter had a phone with a cracked screen and needed a replacement. Second, the iPhone 5 screen, has just become too small for me. The quality of the screen is almost second to none and the text is crisp and clear, but I have a hard time typing on it as it cramps my hands up after a while. This is a real issue. Additionally, I found myself using it less and less for everyday things. I'm getting older. I have to zoom in on text on my 23" monitor sometimes so that I can read more easily. My wife still has an iPhone 4. It is hard to believe so many people made it through on such a tiny screen for so long. When I look at that screen now, it is that much harder for me to see text.

These days, I am the least loyal gadget geek there is. I do not care who makes it, I just care that it does what I want it to. I know the rumors are that Apple will release one or more larger screen iPhones this year. This makes a ton of sense. From now until then, presumably, is about 6 months of wait time and there are no guarantees. Being the impatient person I am, I needed to switch to something for those 6 months, possibly longer.

Enter the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. This marks my second shot at an Android device and I certainly am off to a better start than I was with the Galaxy S3. The first test was to walk outside of the Verizon store and check the screen's ability to display properly in direct sunlight. It passed this test. Though, I need to leave Auto Brightness on for it to be readable. It basically has to turn itself up to 100% brightness in sunlight, but I can at least see the screen which was not the case for the Galaxy S3.

The next test was to verify the battery could at least match the aged iPhone 5 battery I was using. I have had battery disappointment with my iPhone 5 from the beginning. Well, that is not entirely true. The first iPhone 5 I purchased in October of 2012 seemed fine. When I had to get multiple replacements, battery life was never as good as my original. Age and iOS updates furthered my disappointment with the battery. 

The Note 3 appears to have equal or slightly better battery performance than my iPhone 5. Being able to pop in and out a fresh battery at will also helps. There probably is not a smartphone that exists yet that can give me the battery performance I am looking for. As long as a battery can get me through a full day with fairly heavy use, I should be good and that has been the case with the Note 3 thus far. I do dream of the jump in science which will allow increased battery capacity say tenfold (Graphene?). 

With these tests passed, I needed to know more.

Design:

The front of the phone is a rectangular screen with one button. The trim is a metal looking plastic band. The back is a black plastic somewhat faux leather design. It will not win any design awards, but it also will not win any ugly awards. More and more phones design is defined by a screen with a button. The only thing that sets them apart are the degree of curves, choice of materials, and thickness. For the most part, I look at the front of my phones, which is the screen. If you take away the button, speaker grill, and any logos and only took a picture of the screens of competing phones, it would be tough to pick one out over another. 

The stitching is unnecessary, but you don't see it with a case on top of it.

The phone is thin enough for sure, even with a slim plastic case attached. The only complaint I have is I wished the headphone jack was at the bottom as I have grown accustomed to that. It is much less jarring than having it on top. Some people might be thrown off by the power button being on the right side as opposed to the top, but I have gotten used to that, mostly.

Pocket sized?:

The Note 3 still seems gargantuan to some people. I am 6 feet tall, so I'm a big guy. While I cannot speak for others, this phone fits in all of my pants pockets just fine without hinderance. Sure, it is a bit more noticeable to me than the iPhone 5 but it does not bother me a bit. It also does not stick out very much because it is fairly thin.

Camera:

I think the new HTC One M8 is gorgeous and I considered it, but its camera got terrible reviews. The camera on the Note 3 is fantastic. Pictures and videos are super crisp and I really like the default saturation.

An outside shot I took.

Motion/Gestures:

I do not use any gestures. Unfortunately, since taking a screenshot the standard way (power and volume button) does not appear to work on the Note 3, I did have to enable palm swipe for screenshot which caused me a bunch of unwanted screenshots on my S3. Hopefully that is not the case this time around.

S Pen:

I suppose I might be one of the few people who got the Note 3 with no real everyday need for the S Pen. I will say that drawing in an app like Autodesk Sketchbook is an entirely different and more accurate experience than using a finger or large headed stylus on any other device. There is something to be said for the its sharp tip and I believe I will make use of it more and more in the future.

 

CUSTOMIZING!

 

TouchWiz? No! Nova Launcher Prime:

I do not use Touchwiz. Touchwiz is useless. So the first thing I do is install and configure Nova Launcher Prime. This allows me to create a pleasurable and familiar layout for my phone. 

Keyboard:

The default Samsung keyboard is ugly.  Swiftkey is beautiful. The keyboard takes up half of your screen a lot of the time so I think it should look nice. Luckily Swiftkey also functions very well. 

System Font:

For me, the system font is important to the look and feel of the phone experience. As such, the fonts that come pre-installed with the Note 3 are not what I prefer. I was able to fix this by purchasing Helvetica Nue.

Notifications:

I actually like the way iOS notifications work on the lock screen in that the screen turns on and you see swipeable items. In order to get a very similar experience, I use Nils Notification Lock Screen and Floating Panel. What I dislike about iOS notifications are all of the other things you have to shut off for each app (badges, etc). In Android, it is simple to turn off notifications in one setting. I really appreciate the all or nothing sensibility.

Lock Screen:

I also grew accustomed to the camera swipe shortcut on the iPhone lockscreen. In order to achieve something similar and beyond, I turned to Widget Locker. With this app, I am able to set many different shortcuts on my lock screen, camera included. 

Custom Ringtones:

There are many ways to add custom ringtones to an Android device and it is arguably much easier to do than iOS. I chose an app called Ringtone Maker. I simply downloaded the .mp3 files I wanted to use from my OneDrive app and set the tones from within Ringtone Maker.

Exchange:

My work email is Microsoft Exchange based. The most modern looking app I found for this was Nine. This allows me to bypass the ugly default email app completely, using the Gmail app for my Gmail account.

SMS/MMS Messages:

In my previous foray into Android, I used GoSMSPro to replace the uninviting Messages app. Google Hangouts now offers to take control of SMS and MMS. I appreciate having a unified system for all messages. My only gripe is that distinguishing between Hangouts and SMS messages are marked by a very small 'SMS' tag. Being able to separate SMS messages into its own tab or something similar, would be very helpful.

Further Battery tweaking:

I noticed I was losing a bit more battery power than I should so I turned off location services for Google Now and turned off push for all email accounts. I am also mindful to open the task manager and clear memory every so often. These few things seemed to get back some valuable juice.

Car Integration/Audio:

A very important benefit of having an iPhone is its easy integration with many automobiles. I was able to plug a lightning cable from my phone to my car usb port and get power, audio, and even song information. My car only supports basic bluetooth audio functionality, not A2DP, but this worked fine side by side with my iPhone for phone calls.

With an Android device, I was not about to plug in a cable to the bottom for power and an audio cable to the top for audio with a mess of wires all over the place. Instead, I purchased this Bluetooth adapter to solve the issue. Now all audio plays through this bluetooth device and I only plug one cable into my phone for power only when necessary. It is not as convenient, but it gets the job done.

I had previously purchased the iMagnet car holder for my iPhone which worked amazingly. It works just as well for the Note 3. I highly recommend this product to everyone regardless of what phone you have.

Wrap Up

With these customizations, I am able to have an Android experience that is very functional, minimal, and pleasing to my eyes. I will admit that it took me a fair amount of time to put it all together and find the right apps and settings. Coming from an OS that is mostly dictated, I feel like an animal uncaged when moving to a platform that lets you do so much. 

 I am pleased with my home screen.

iOS absolutely has a coat of polish and uniform elegance that Android lacks out of the box, but with some effort, I find the Android experience can rank right up there and also be better in different areas because of the vast customization abilities it affords you.

Sure there are a few iOS exclusive apps I will miss like Tweetbot but the reality is I absolutely can get along without them. I will still enjoy those apps on my iPad as I feel the tablet experience on iOS is still unsurpassed. iPads also come in multiple screen sizes. I feel great about being able to make use of several different ecosystems: Windows on a PC, Mac OS on a laptop, Android on a phone, and iOS on a tablet.

I guess I like my technology the same way I like my food: All of it.

Apple Manufacturing Issues and Apple Store Frustration

I set out to buy 2 brand new Apple products this past weekend. Simple enough, right?

First up was a 4th gen iPad that was on promotion at Target with a $40 gift card. I had just sold my original iPad and returned my iPad 3 (the reason is further along in this post). I went to my local Target and purchased an iPad 4. I got out to the parking lot and opened the unit. I noticed the protective plastic over the screen was very marred and scratched which struck me as odd. I was surprised it would have come out of the factory like this.

Once opened, there was quite a bit of dust and particles on the screen that I had to wipe away. Once I did, I found a sizable white particle trapped underneath the screen. No amount of wiping made it go away and once turned on, it was worse than the size of a bad pixel. There was no way I was going to be satisfied with this unit. Whether it be my OCD or future resale value, I could not let this stand.

I went back in and explained my issue. The customer service representative did not fully understand and could not see the particle. Regardless, I was requesting a new unit to replace the defective one. A different sales rep walked a new unit down to the sales desk for me and after a bit of confusion, I walked out and proceeded to open this new unit in my car.

To my grand dismay and surprise, this unit's plastic sheath was marred and scratched the same way and also had dust and particles all over the screen. In a different spot on the screen, a white particle was trapped under the glass. Are these units not assembled in clean rooms?

I was absolutely amazed and frustrated and so was the Target rep at the service desk who rolled her eyes at me in disbelief as I walked towards her. How dare I return another one because of a white dot! She immediately mumbled something about security and a manager. Several minutes later, a manager came out and I explained the issue. After consulting with someone in the back, he agreed to open one more unit together, with me. Both reps reminded me that these units had to be returned to Apple as if it were an inconvenience. These were defective units. What else did they think should be done with them?

Lo and behold, this unit seemed fine. I thanked Target for their time and gave my opinion that they seemed to have received somewhat of a bad batch. This comes only weeks after I had purchased an iPad 3 at a different Target and returned it because the aluminum bezel edges were not fully machined and even had aluminum dust and chips on some of the edges. 

At the very least, my opinion is that there is something going on with Apple's manufacturing process in addition to their quality control. I cannot be the only isolated case.

Or can I? On Friday night, I purchased an iPhone 5 at full retail price on Apple's web site, but used the feature that allowed me to pick it up the next day at the Danbury Apple Store which is about 30 miles away from my house and even further from the Target I had just been to, but it was the closest store with stock. I made my way to the store the next morning and was helped within 15 minutes. By 11AM, I was almost done with my transaction. As I left the store, I began fully inspecting the body of the phone. Once more, to my great dismay, I discovered a some defects in the form of a handful of scattered white dot chips on the back of the phone. Unbelievable!

Some customers must be overlooking this stuff. I guess you really do have to look for it, but at the premium prices we pay for tech products these days, we SHOULD be inspecting each and every device (investment) with a fine toothed comb. I headed back to the Apple store to immediately exchange it. That is where the quality control story ends and my Apple Store frustration begins.

I was put back in a customer queue which meant I was to stand next to some Macbooks for another 10-15 minutes. I thought this would be a quick and painless exchange but I stumbled onto a new limitation of ability of Apple Stores. (On a side note, when I went to buy an iPhone 3GS at an Apple Store, I was not able to purchase it because Apple did not have the ability to process the orders of AT&T customers who happened to have a company discount on their account). 

As the helpful Apple employee deactivated my scratched up iPhone 5 and attempted to activate a new one for an even exchange, he began running into errors. Something no one in the store had seen before. After about 20-30 minutes of consulting and trying, the employee then called Verizon who instructed him to try a different sim card. Still, no dice and they refused to let me leave the store with the phone unactivated. I was then told I needed to allow Apple to credit me back for the phone and charge me a whole new amount. I reluctantly allowed this which meant that i would have $1382 tied up on my debit card until the refund came through. I was assured this would work. After a few sim card swaps, the new unit appeared to activate and I left the store.

I went to have lunch and as I was eating, I noticed there was no Verizon label in the top left of my phone so I rebooted. An error came up saying my phone could not activate. Beyond frustrated, I went back to the Apple Store and was helped again. A manager suggested the employee walk me down to the Verizon store to see if they could help. I was then put in the Verizon queue and the Apple employee left.

About 30 minutes later, Verizon was able to go in and change the sim ID to what it was supposed to be and I was activated. Apparently, this was not something Apple has the power to do. This was one of the most frustrating experiences I ever had. What should have been a 15 minute trip to the Apple Store turned into literally, a 4 hour affair. All of the humans at the Apple Store and Verizon Store were very helpful and understanding. 

Between defects in manufacturing and Apple's limited ability to offer full service when it comes to at least one of their carriers, this customer experience was less than stellar. Both of these issues could and should be addressed. Maybe the manufacturing defects have something to do with Foxconn trying to keep up with demand. I honestly do not know, but what I do know is that I had a very difficult time buying 2 Apple products in November.

The most important take away from this story though is: Always thoroughly inspect your gadgets and devices before leaving the store. We pay way too much for anything less than flawless devices at this point.

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